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Portfolio review postmortem 2013

2013 April 5

Did portfolio review today, again. As always, no two years are exactly alike.

The first observation that comes to mind about this one is how formal dress seems to have gone entirely out the window, this year, at least among the male students. Not that I’m judging; I work at home and if I make it beyond pajamas before noon that’s raising the bar, sartorially… so if you want to show up to portfolio review looking like you just peeled yourself off a floor five minutes before, I’m not going to scold you. Bit of a surprising development, though.

Also surprising: that students are still designing web site “splash pages” in 2013. As I recall, those were mostly on their way out by the time I graduated, in 2000… when these students were about eight years old. (Gah.) Where are they even learning of this concept? If it’s faculty, well… get with it, faculty.

Another funny point: the contradictory advice students receive. I remember the same thing, and it hasn’t changed. One poor student, in particular, had what I considered a good solid portfolio with plenty of material… and after asking me about it, noted that someone else had just said he should have double the number of pages. Aaaaaaaand y’know, you’ll get that. I told him that there is no universal right answer on this stuff, though my own opinion would strongly discourage doubling the number of pages, and I’ll be sticking to that.

I only did one session, this year, and talked with maybe 10 students… I believe nearly all were from University of Akron, with a couple from Westminster. The Akron students are still doing good work, in some cases very good. Perhaps the one curious, common weak point in nearly all of their portfolios was the book design project. Perhaps this struck me because I design so many covers, myself, but again and again these otherwise impressive portfolios included this clunker of a book cover that looked amateurish and phoned-in. Is it more difficult to get this right than I thought? If so, great for me… Still, kind of weird.

Otherwise, a pretty consistent level of thoughtful, polished design; nothing that knocked me over dead, but nothing that left me worried for anyone’s future (moreso than the general economic circumstances, at least).

For my part, this felt like the most asocial portfolio review I’ve done. Show up, check in, exchange a few words with some very casual acquaintances, review portfolios for two hours, pack up and come home. No reconnecting with old friends, or making new ones, no afterparty beers for some reason.

And regarding the question of whether I’ll return next year, I still don’t know. Today did nothing special to make me come back, certainly, except that during the past 24 hours I’ve been thinking “is it right to abandon these young people if I can help?” That’s the one thing that feels like it might motivate future reviews, if anything does; I feel completely disconnected from the AIGA chapter, but I feel sympathy for these young people facing a dismal job market… though, at the same time, I wonder how much help I really provide, as well as how valid is my concern for skilled college graduates given how many others are far more disadvantaged… So I don’t know.

I will say this, though. I saw one older reviewer, today, either shaking his fist at a student or else miming pounding the table. And, y’know, to be charitable I suppose it’s good that someone feels passion for the messages they have to offer. Still… again, I was graduating college when these kids were midway through elementary school, and this guy was a generation or more older than me; I think we seem quite weird and scary enough without imitating Kruschev. As noted above, there isn’t a universal “right” way, but… if I continue reviewing portfolios, if I ever reach that point please please, quietly escort me out and back to my porch swing.

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